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On “M B V,” sex and My Bloody Valentine

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R.I.P. Virgin Megapussy Chicago. Didn’t die a virgin though, I penetrated it. I was 15 years old, I had 15 minutes before my parents barged in. I was in an anxious rush. I meant to pull out earlier, but she said “No, come inside me,” so I did. And I left a man, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless in hand. It was a totally impulsive lay, but the second it touched my soul I couldn’t get my mind off of it. It was intoxicating, and I spent most of the car ride back to Michigan listening to the album backwards and forwards, having hallucinations of the ideal adolescence–high off of puppy love orgies, kisses like starbursts. I can’t even remember her face, each time I turned her over, it was a different girl. For someone who has never been inside anything except a urine sample collector, the loss of innocence felt real, and I regret to inform you that I’ve been successfully operating under the delusion ever since.

Back in May 2012, My Bloody Valentine front man-cum-elusive seductress Kevin Shields made a rare social outing, offering an interview to Quietus magazine. During the interview, Taylor Parkes wisely pointed out that the experience of listening to My Bloody Valentine was far removed from the raw sexual energy of their nympho predecessors Led Zeppelin. Shields’ reasoning for the divide was simple, but profound: “Their music is about wanting sex, but we’re doing it!”

That single sentence defines how My Bloody Valentine made the dream of the cosmic first lay in the back of a Trans Am come true for what has turned out to be a disappointingly sexless generation. It’s a generation in which it seems people are afraid of intimacy, they’re freaked out by the incoherence between the fervent idealism an overload of media stimulation has created in their minds and the ugly and sometimes unpredictable nature of real, genuine relationships. As a result, it seems like ‘having sex’ has turned into some kind of large spectacle, as opposed to just a component of human desire that can and should be acted upon. Consequently everyone turns into a voyeur, going to porno pictures or indulging in the nostalgia of ravenous Zep or bosomless Bowie, trying to imagine themselves in the act as somebody else rather than actually doing it themselves. When people do seem to get laid, they seem very uncomfortable about it. Their egos can’t seem to manage the revelations made in the sack, and it takes a while for men, in particular, to recover from the shattered illusion that the princely image they devised in the flirtation process would remain unblemished in the minds of their lover.

But that’s where hearing My Bloody Valentine changes everything.  Maybe now more so than ever, the cathartic power of their music affects people and causes them to dream the good dream–we saw it in the brief, latent adolescence of chillwave, and we continue to see it in MBV’s countless imitators–they all display a potential to go back to a sincerity in music where the ego has either been stripped to reveal a euphoric outpouring of soul or has been amplified and revealed for what it is at any one instantaneous moment, free of irony. What makes Loveless a faithful service to that dream is that the album isn’t voyeuristic – it’s first person. Even the precursor to Loveless, Isn’t Anything, which at times sounds like a sado-masochistic gothic rape fantasy, doesn’t confine itself to passive fantasy but actively fantasizes, inducing the leering eyes and blackened tongue of a violent lust. This is why news of the release of M B V, the long-awaited follow up to Loveless, gave me a week-long erection. At the cusp of the highly cerebral and pornography obsessed 1980s, Shields dropped Loveless as an instance of raw sensuality amidst a painful dry spell–and this time I expected him to do it again. Once it came out, though, I instantly knew I set the bar too high.

The songs here seem more distant and mature from the heady romance of Loveless, relying more on acid house like grooves and monotonous, drawling drones (“She Found Now,” “Only Tomorrow”).  The romance is gentler on the ears than the erratic bipolar swings between adrenaline and opiate that made Loveless such a dynamic album. None of the songs on M B V are impregnated with the urgency of pummeling drum tracks featured on Loveless such as “Only Shallow” or “Loomer”; nor does M B V contrast an schizophrenic fever with the lushness of release featured on songs like “To Here Knows When” and “When You Sleep.” The experience of M B V is far more about restraint. It’s orchestrated with greater consistency and poise, and as result its beauty is perhaps too perfect. Whereas Loveless gushes with intimacy and causes your spine to tingle, M B V is more about the anticipation that precedes such a moment.  It’s not a sequel–it’s a prequel.

The obvious culprit in their lack of libido seems to be age. Loveless has energy that feels like a first lay, a novel sensation. This album doesn’t appear like a novelty, it plays likes a tried and true formula, smooth and sweet. Shields has been in the sack 2,000 times since, and to me, at least, it’s no longer about some spiraling, soul-searching instance in time. It’s about a lasting moment. Sex doesn’t have the same meaning behind it, so now it’s about romance. Pleasure no longer feels like the guiding emotion, and so the mood and tempo feel more even. The orchestration is less nuanced and more transparent. Whereas on Loveless Shields used nothing but self-styled tunings, EQ and tremolo to create a dense, sprawling sound palette that pushed up right against the ear drum and stimulated you with every tickling nuance, M B V tends to feel like the nuances are hidden with some kind of self-conscious precision. The techniques no longer intend for the music to go straight into your soul, but for the listener to find their soul in the music.

My initial reaction to the album was disappointment.  I felt like the last album went beyond casual romantic encounter and put you in the driver’s seat of this unbelievably orgasmic conquest, and this one backtracked. I felt like Loveless understood that moment of release and musically depicted it so well–the force beneath the restraint and the total bliss that occurred when all restraint had depleted.  No one ever took you to that place, and My Bloody Valentine did. So it made sense to me that they would continue to do so. Unfortunately, the reality is that once you’ve been there, it can’t be the same again. So they’ve simply restructured the rules. Instead of baring it all, My Bloody Valentine now plays hard to get.